Health & Safety

September 6, 2012

Beware of mold

Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight
355th Aerospace Medicine Squadron

With the Arizona monsoon season in full swing and humid weather the norm, mold growth can become prevalent in homes and buildings. Mold is a type of fungus that grows on damp surfaces or decaying organic matter. It is found everywhere, both outdoors and inside of buildings and homes. Mold only becomes a concern if it begins to overgrow.

Signs of mold overgrowth include visible mold on surfaces or a building with a damp, musty smell. Mold overgrowth can cause structural damage to roofs and walls inside of buildings. It also may cause allergy like symptoms in some individuals.

Symptoms often reported are runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, and nasal stuffiness. Those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory disorders may be more sensitive to mold exposure. In rare instances mold exposure can result in severe fungal infections in persons who have weakened immune systems.

Building occupants can prevent or eliminate most mold growth. The first step is to create an atmosphere that does not promote growth. Molds will grow and multiply in moist/humid areas and in the presence of decaying organic material. Be on the lookout in your home for common sources of indoor moisture that may lead to mold problems. Some common sources include a leaky roof or windows, burst pipes, wet insulation within walls or ceiling, and poorly draining bathtubs and shower stalls. Home owners might want to consider utilizing a dehumidifier during the monsoon season to help pull moisture out of the building.

If mold overgrowth continues to be a problem and the affected area is less than 10 square feet, wipe down the area with a solution of one part bleach and 10 parts water. Be sure to protect your hand and eyes from irritation by wearing gloves and eye protection. Do not mix bleach with other cleaning products that contain ammonia because a highly toxic chlorine gas can be produced. Only mix bleach with water. For protection from mold spores while cleaning, N-95 respirator masks are handy and can be purchased at local hardware stores. They look just like dust masks but are designed to fit more snugly around the mouth and nose to provide better protection from mold spores. They do not, however, protect against chemical gases or vapors. No matter how many times they are cleaned, large porous items are very difficult to thoroughly clean and mold is likely to return. Therefore, it is best to dispose of heavily-contaminated items.

For moldy areas larger than 10 square feet it may be necessary to hire a professional to remove the mold. However, be wary of businesses claiming to test or sample for mold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency do not advocate mold testing because test results provide little useful information. No matter what species or how many spores are present, the removal process is the same. In addition, every person has a different threshold for mold sensitivity, so a higher quantity of airborne mold does not necessarily mean more health problems for the building occupants.

If you are a resident of base housing, Soaring Heights will evaluate and treat the problem. Do not call outside contractors if you live in base housing. For other on-base buildings such as the dorms, contact your building manager; so that he or she can take appropriate steps to remedy the situation.

Anyone who experiences symptoms they suspect are caused by mold should see their physician. For on-base housing, if necessary, the doctor can recommend an evaluation of the patient’s home which must be coordinated through Soaring Heights. Occupants of base housing who wish to report the presence of mold in their home should call Soaring Heights at (520) 745-5024.

The bottom line is that mold occurs everywhere, but prevention and control of mold overgrowth can prevent most building damage and adverse health effects.

For more information in regards to the contents of this article, readers may contact the 355th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight at 228-5369 or 228-1903. They may also go online to the Environmental Protection Agency website at http://www.epa.gov or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/mold/default.htm.




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(U.S. Air Force Illustration by Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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